One thing about starting a new family is getting exposed to a new generation of children’s entertainment. Or, sometimes, the re-packaging of the previous generation's. I have two daughters in their twenties and of course they saw all the Disney movies, including those centering on traditional fairy tale princesses, but they misses out on the whole Disney Princess phenomenon. Thankfully!Not so, Makayla. Even before she saw any of the films she was calling gowns ‘princess dresses.’ It’s strange to think of toddlers and pre-schoolers having their own pop sub-culture, but they do and, if they’re girls, Disney Princesses are their icons. And she picked up on what the movies are telling her too: the goal is to find a prince. If you asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll tell you she wants to get married. (Actually, nowadays she’s likely to tell you to become a doctor and get married, but that’s her mother’s influence.)But if Disney has created a problem--and, yes, it would be silly to lay the whole thing at Disney’s feet--they are also providing a solution in a new series of movies starring Tinker Bell and the fairies of Pixie Hollow. I saw the first two of these movies before our trip to Disney World, but didn’t recognize their potential until we were there. The nice thing about going there at the end of September is how much the crowds have thinned. We rarely waited more than ten minutes for anything. We may have waited fifteen to meet actresses dressed as Princess characters, and I did see a sign saying that the wait to go on the Peter Pan ride was then thirty five minutes, but we had gone earlier and been on the ride in less than ten minutes. No, if line ups are any measure of demand the biggest thing at Disney World was Pixie Hollow. We actually stood in line an hour so the girls (we also took our granddaughter Talia) could meet three actresses dressed as the fairies Fawn, Tinker Bell, and Vidia. I heard a lot of parents muttering about how they couldn’t believe how long it was taking, but I didn’t hear a single complaint from the kids; ours or anyone else’s. (Makayla is dressed like Belle. Talia like Aurora.)The first film, Tinker Bell (2008), tells the origins of Tinker Bell, her birth and how she became a tinker. In the world of Pixie Hollow, where the fairies are hard at work bringing about the changes of the seasons (painting the leaves for autumn, teaching the baby birds to fly in the spring, etc) newborn fairies are presented with the sigils of each fairy guild. The one that reacts most strongly to the fairy’s presence defines that fairy’s role. There are animal fairies, light fairies, water fairies, garden fairies, fast flying (air/wind) fairies, and there are tinker fairies. While the other fairies take what they have prepared out of Pixie Hollow and over to the mainland, the tinkers stay home and help prepare. They provide what the military would call logistical support. When Tinker Bell learns that she can’t go to the mainland, she is determined to develop a new skill, to become another kind of fairy, so that she can. After a great many comic misadventures, she learns to appreciate herself and her own gifts.The second movie, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), sees her happily applying her considerable problem-solving skills and being given the privilege of creating the sceptre for the Blue Harvest Moon ceremony. Every eight years a blue harvest moon shines through the moonstone and creates blue pixie dust, which the pixie dust tree needs if it’s going to keep producing their supply of pixie dust. This dust is a valuable resource for the community, providing them with many of their powers. Without it, for example, a fairy can’t really fly. They just sort of hop about. Tinker Bell feels genuinely honoured to be given the task, but anyone who remembers the original Peter Pan will know that she has a notorious temper and when a friend of hers, the pixie dust keeper Terence (dust keepers seem to be a sub-group of the tinkers), tries to help, he ends up setting off that temper to ruinous results. If Tink is going to save the day, she’s going to have to start valuing her friends.Parents appreciate quality children’s entertainment. Kids really will watch the same thing over and over and over and… anyway, if you’re watching the same show on a regular basis, good writing and production values begin to count for a lot. And the Tinker Bell movies have been very good. They don’t make an effort to reach out to older viewers with pop culture references that will go over the kids head. Instead they trust in the story. A good story is a good story and while an adult is unlikely to pick up one of these films for him or herself, I think the kids who are watching them now will still have fond memories of them ten, twenty years from now. (For cinemaphiles who want some frame of reference, John Lasseter, the driving force behind Pixar, is also the Executive Producer of this series.)What I like about these films is that the fairies, and the focus is on the female cast, are focused on their work and helping their friends and community. Tinker Bell is never going to marry Terence. It’s why I think they are an antidote to the Princesses and not just the Next Big Thing. They are characters who take pride in take pride in their accomplishments, in problem solving, and in helping one another. And they don’t waste time with all the girl power tag lines we’ve all grown so weary of. They simply do the job in front of them.As for the third movie, The Great Fairy Rescue, my wife and I sat down to watch it with Makayla and found ourselves laughing out loud more than once. It was fun. I am sure we’ll be watching it again (and again), but the story wasn’t as strong as the first two. The main plot involves Tinker Bell being captured by a little girl named Lizzy. I am not sure what Tink is doing on the mainland. The whole point of the first movie was that she wasn’t able to go there. Lizzy is a girl that loves fairies and spends all her time fantasizing about them. Her father is the always busy, always preoccupied Dr. Griffins, who doesn’t believe in fairies or anything else without proof. Yes, it’s another little girl who just needs a little attention and another parent who just needs to believe.The motive of this movie, however, has nothing to do with the Griffins. It has to do with Vidia and Tinker Bell. As you might have noticed from the video above, these two characters aren’t exactly friends. Vidia is a fast flying fairy. She’s important, she knows it, and she finds Tinker Bell extremely annoying. If these stories were set in a high school, Vidia would be the Queen Bee. She is not a villain. She is not a bad person--fairy--but she is obviously intended to be Tink’s antagonist. There are two problems with this. First, because Disney had the courage to play her character straight. Kids know she isn’t a villain. She’s the best and she knows it, and that comes off as snobbish, but little children have a strong sense of pecking order. They seem hard wired to defer to the oldest, the strongest, the ‘best’, even if they don’t want to, or don’t like the other kid. They may not like the trouble she causes Tink and they may be glad when she gets in trouble, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t attracted to her in much the same way school children will seek the approval of the class Queen. Second, of all the fairies Vidia and Tinker Bell have the strongest personalities. Tink has four other friends. Rosetta, a flower fairy, has a Southern accent and Iridessa, a light fairy, is black, but accents and skin colouring don’t really add much personality-wise. Both Fawn, an animal fairy, and Silvermist, a water fairy, seem more nurturing, but I could well be reading that into them, given the nature of their work. The truth Tink’s friends exists largely just to be friends and to encourage her when things aren’t going well. Tink and Vidia are the ones that make an impression and the point of this movie seems to be to create a détente between them. Even if Vidia isn’t going to become anther one of Tinker Bell’s BFFs, most mothers don’t want their daughters trying to emulate a snob. (Trust me.) The next movie is due out in February and I am sure we’ll be watching it. I personally hope Vidia’s character remains unchanged. That she remains the oil to Tinker Bell’s vinegar. It adds a nice mix and one we often don’t see in the dumbed down world of children’s entertainment. Originally Pubished at: David Bird
I rented this six episode mini-series over the past couple of weeks. A long time Prisoner fan, my scepticism had been wrestling with my curiosity for some time. It was “Why would they re-make a perfect show? Can’t Hollywood do anything original any more?” versus “I wonder how it turned out?” Eventually my curiosity won out.How did it turn out? The story is in some ways very different than the original. They’ve moved the Village to the desert for one thing, and made it more of a living community, complete with children, but the real changes were of tone and focus. They took the concept of The Prisoner and moved in another direction altogether. Unfortunately, it’s a move that lacks the clarity and focus of the original. The chief problem of this remake is that it meanders along, never quite taking hold of its own plot, themes, or the viewer’s attention. In fact, the only thing that salvages the series at all is the acting. Jim Caviezel’s ability to convey subtleties saves this version of 6/Michael (yes, we’re given a name this time) from coming off as whiney and self-absorbed. Ian McKellen plays 2/Mr. Curtis throughout. His character is often creepily intimidating, an avuncular Kim Jong-il. His suffers most from the lack of focus. This number 2 has a wife, kept in a drug induced coma-like condition, and a teenage son. They turn out to be very important, but why isn’t explained until the final episode and that explanation, like so much of his story, comes across as undeveloped and poorly thought out.If they took the first and sixth episodes and bits of the other four, I think this could be re-edited into a much better, much tighter two hour movie, one I’d like to see, but after watching the first disc I put on the first episode of the original series. I was immediately struck by its clarity and focus. However convoluted the machinations of the Village and the various 2’s, the show, and Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan), always conveyed a razor sharp focus. Something sadly missing here. Originally Pubished at: David Bird
Part 2 of my recent comic column where I ask creators about their favorite horror movies.http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/features/face-to-greg/11169-lets-ask-3-whats-your-horror-part-2-movies.htmlNathan Edmondson (Image Comics' The Light and Who IsJake Ellis?): THE BIRDS because its execution is flawless and its viewers are left clawing after, but at the mercy of the mystery in the end. THE SHINING because those halls will never lose their dread.Jimmie Robinson (Image Comics' Bomb Queen): This is harder [than books] because, and I'll be honest... I'm pretty desensitized to horror films. Nowadays I search for the most obscure, extreme and surreal horror because it takes a lot to get my motor running. It's not that I need to see the knife going into the eye without cutting away, I also want to see and feel something unique and horrible. Most horror is made for an audience that already knows the rules. Sure, some films have bent those rules but not many have completely broken them and replaced them with a new language of horror.But if I must pick something perhaps the French film, MARTYRS could float my raft off a deserted island. Not just for the violence, but for the deeper meaning found in the twist ending -- which makes an impact after sitting through an hour of torture porn. It's an interesting take on the subject of gore, plus the horror aspects dwell in the extremes that some people justify for *their* cause -- whatever it may be. It also keeps you guessing to the end and that's brilliant.Erik Larsen (Image Comics' Savage Dragon): PLANET TERROR from GRINDHOUSE comes closest.Mahmud Asrar (Marvel Comics' Shadowland: Powerman): I think I'd go for THE RING by Gore Verbinski. Although I watch a lot of horror movies and have many favourites, The Ring was really a movie that terrified me especially came at a time when I gave up on the horror cinema. Great visuals, lots of atmosphere and that said I do enjoy a wide variety of horror films from the likes of ROSEMARY'S BABY to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to ALIEN to THE DESCENT.Hector Casanova (Image Comics' Screamland): It's hard to have a single favorite horror movie, especially for a horror movie fan. So I am breaking it down into subcategories, as the Horror genre really is much too diverse. I am a HUGE fan of certain subgenres of horror, like Creature Features and Magical Realism, whereas I do not care at all for others, like Torture Porn or Slasher flicks... and then there are the ones that could go either way: Vampires, Haunted House, Dark Fantasy, etc.SO, favorite Creature movie: THE HOST (2006) by Joon-ho Bong- A giant walking fish monster that swallows its victims whole only to vomit them up again later back in its den for slower enjoyment? A 10-year-old girl survives regurgitation and tries to escape? There is nothing not-awesome about this movie. Plus, it has the most realistic, freakiest, grossest creature I've seen yet, and just enough slapstick humor to keep you from being completely traumatized. If all creature movies were this good...Tomm Coker (Marvel Comics' Daredevil Noir and Image Comics' Undying Love): THE EXORCIST is the scariest film ever made. William Friedkin approached the subject matter with an almost documentary style, playing the situations as real rather than fantastic, and in doing so grounded the story in a way that was believable and relatable and therefore more frightening.David Hine (DC Comics' Azrael and The Spirit, Image Comics' Bulletproof Coffin, and Radical Comics' Ryder on the Storm): ERASERHEAD because it's the most innovative and disturbing film ever made. The Radiator Lady alone would have made it a classic, or the embryo/baby, the chicken dinner, Jack Nance's hair!Harold Sipe (Image Comics' Screamland and IDW's Garter and Ghouls): My favorite horror movie in forever was THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. There are such horrifying subtleties in that film. The scene where you first see the ghost still gives me chills to think about.Phil Hester (Image Comics' Firebreather and Top Cow's The Darkness and Boom! Comics' The Anchor): I find NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to be the scariest, mostly for the matter of fact presentation, newscasts, and claustrophobia. For newer stuff, I really dug THE RING, but not the sequels and knock offs. I should also add that my favorite monster movie is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Perfect blend of horror and humor.Alex Grecian (Image Comics' Proof: Endangered) : I'm gonna go ahead and be conventional and say that THE EXORCIST is still the scariest film I've ever seen. I saw it when I was a little kid and it kept me awake for weeks afterward, terrified that I might end up possessed by a demon. (Or worse, visited by a priest in my bedroom.) On the other hand, I also saw the first HALLOWEEN film and Kubrick's THE SHINING when I was a kid and thought they were great. The Shining was amazing fun and Halloween was just the right amount of creepy. Speaking of creepy, there was a scene in SALEM'S LOT with a little boy vampire hovering outside another kid's window that prompted me to keep my curtains closed at night. More recently, THE RING gave me goosebumps. (I know a lot of horror fans make fun of that film, but who isn't scared of little girl ghosts?) And LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was a wonderful movie on nearly every level.Reginald Hudlin (Marvel Comics' Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of our Fathers): Hmmmm, I guess 28 DAYS LATER because it felt really logical and totally terrifying.Shaky Kane (Image Comics' Bulletproof Coffin): When it comes to movies it changes all the time. Although saying that as far as impact goes it would be hard to beat THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. Its a 'once in a life time' idea, and what a great character Dr Heiter is.Visionary and fucked-up I loved every thing about this movie.Originally Pubished at: Minds of Greg
On my recent Face To Greg, I ask various comic creators what their favorite horror books are.http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/features/face-to-greg/11167-lets-ask-3-whats-your-horror-part-1-books.html/Hector Casanova (Image Comics' Screamland): IT by Stephen King. At over 1000 pages, it's a fatty, but it's totally worth it. Pure King at the top of his game. It's got everything: mysterious deaths, ineffable monsters, killer clowns, alien invasions, domestic violence, even kids having sex... but most convincing, and scariest of all, is how well King can capture what it's like to be a 12 yr old misfit, terrified and terrorized by your peers and the world around you.Jimmie Robinson (Shadowland Comics' Bomb Queen): Stephen King's NIGHT SHIFT. I like short stories and King did well with this book back in the day. It's also one of the most movie-optioned books in history. So many films were based out of this book that I think he set a record. In particular, Children of the Corn was especially well done. Granted the film version(s) is akin to a made-for-Syfy-Channel-movie, but the original story was solid. King is good at conflict creation. The ultimate "what if...?" writer. His high-concept stories (which Hollywood loves) have always held a place in my reader's heart. He also has a large body of work to dwell on and often you can find some connective tissue between books, and I appreciate that. However, he's not the only star in the horror sky, but since the question aims at a single work then I'll let it stand where it is.Nathan Edmundson (Image Comics' The Light and Who Is Jake Ellis?): My favorite horror book is THE OATH by Frank Peretti. That, or IT [by Stephen King]. THE OATH is hardly a "horror" book, but I read it when I was about 5 and it scared me pretty good. IT seeps into you, and few other books have had me looking out the window like that one--and reaching for the book in the dark, too. For more shock horror, I think I could qualify BLOOD MERIDIAN.Erik Larsen (Image Comics' Savage Dragon): Seriously--the closest I come is THE WALKING DEAD and it's more of a survival story than a horror one.Mahmud Asrar (Marvel Comics' Shadowland: Powerman): This is a difficult one but when it comes to novels I lean towards the classics. Stuff with a Gothic setting and an ominous atmosphere really grab me. I'll have to go for BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA.Harold Sipe (Image Comics' Screamland and IDW's Garter and Ghouls): My favorite horror book of recent memory has been Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX. There is a really chilling scene pretty early on in which the main character has to walk past a ghost sitting in his hallway. No gore. No screaming and carrying on. The horror came from all the description and subtlety of the scene, this seems to me where Hill really excels. I am really enjoying 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS by Hill as well.David Hine (DC Comics' Azrael and The Spirit, Image Comics' Bulletproof Coffin, and Radical Comics' Ryder on the Storm): JAPANESE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION by Edogawa Rampo. The Japanese author took his name from the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe and he set out to outdo the master. Three of the stories in this volume would be in my all-time top ten: "The Human Chair", "The Hell of Mirrors" and "The Caterpillar." Here's the basic plot of "The Human Chair": A guy falls in love with an unattainable woman, so he constructs a chair that he can crawl into and stay there in a seated position. His arms are in the arms of the chair, his upper torso in the back of the chair and so on. Then he has the chair (and himself) delivered to her. Whenever she sits on the chair, she's sitting on him. He basically lives in there, only sneaking out at night to eat. Now that is scary...Reginald Hudlin (Marvel Comics' Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers): I've never read a true horror novel. In comics, CROSSED is the scariest thing ever. WALKING DEAD is brilliantly written and drawn. Alan Moore's NECROMINCON is pretty damn good so far.Tomm Coker (Marvel Comics' Daredevil Noir and Image Comics' Undying Love): DRACULA is where it all began. Horror in an extended novel form with all the mood, scares and beast we've come to expect from monsters and ghouls. Stoker invented the structure and created a great love story that scared my socks off as a kid.Alex Grecian (Image Comics' Proof): The most disturbing novels I've ever read are probably LORD OF THE FLIES and THE ROAD, but they probably don't qualify as horror, so I'm gonna nominate Stephen King's THE SHINING as scariest ever. It's the only thing I've ever read that scared me so badly I had to stop reading and actually hide the book. I threw it as far back under my bed as it would go and never finished reading it. If you're curious, the chapter that did it for me was the one with the ghost lady in the bathtub. Yikes!Originally Pubished at: Minds of Greg
During this period Elvis continued to play around and collaborate with more of his favorites, tried his hand at an even wider range of material, courted a new fan base through college radio, and married Canadian Jazz Pianist Diana Krall. Another noteworthy item is the Sundance Channel series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with… which lasted two seasons. Check them out on DVD. Additionally check out Costello’s new album National Ransom out on November 2nd. I have outlined the releases from this era below. Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases. 2001 – Anne Sofie Von Otter/Elvis Costello – For The Stars: Costello’s collaboration with the famed mezzo-soprano opera singer. Kinda of a snooty mash up between the rock and opera worlds. 2002 – Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel: A much more visceral beat driven experience, surprisingly influenced by the production Elvis was hearing in R&B and Hip Hop record from that time. For the first time Elvis employed the use of digital sampling, beat boxes, and more cutting edge tech. The album is one of my favorites and its success on college radio opened him up to a whole new legion of fans. ESSENTIAL 2003 – Elvis Costello – North: A bare stripped down record of ballads and melancholic jazz pop. Elvis’s most straight forwardly honest album lyrically. Half deals with his breakup with Cait and the other half with his budding romance with new flame Diana Krall. 2004 – Elvis Costello – Il Signo: During his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet and his involvement with Classical Music through the 1990s Costello taught himself how to read a write music. This release is the fruits of his labor and his first orchestral composition played by the London Symphony Orchestra. 2004 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Delivery Man: Debut of the Imposters, which is basically the Attractions with a different Bassist instead of Bruce Thomas. A fairly straight forward bluesy rock record recorded in Mississippi. Features guest vocals from Emmy Lou Harris and Lucinda Williams. ESSENTIAL 2006 – Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant – The River in Reverse: Elvis renews his interest in the music of New Orleans with the help of local Allen Touissant for a full album collaboration. This is Elvis at his funkiest. Touissant acts as the perfect counterpoint to Costello’s stuffy British-ness. You can also catch both artists in their multi-episode cameos in the recent HBO series Treme. ESSENTIAL 2008 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Momofuku: Named after the man who created instant noodles? Which is supposed to signify the albums nature of being written, recorded, and released very quickly. Features backing vocals from Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis… for which Elvis traded an appearance on her second solo record Acid Tongue. ESSENTIAL 2009 – Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane: Another team up with producer T-Bone Burnett, this time a foray into Bluegrass, which allowed him to play with some of Bluegrass Music’s best, like Jerry Douglas, Dennis Crouch, Jim Lauderdale and Stuart Duncan. Unfortunately very weak. Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era. If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link. Originally Pubished at:
A period of serious rebirth and artistic experimentation. Along with the wider range of material Elvis released during this stretch you get a wider range of hit and miss as well. There are heavier moments here, especially on Blood & Chocolate and Brutal Youth but for the most part you get a lot of mellow Elvis. On top of all the music that he released during this period, Costello also curated Southbank Centre’s prestigious Meltdown festival in London in 1995. I have outlined the releases from this era below. Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases. 1986 – The Costello Show – King of America: This album is a rebirth in many ways. Among those rebirths is his new love, Cait O’roirdon of the Pogues and the move away from using The Attractions as his sole musical accompaniment. Instead he was able to hand pick musicians that fit his renewed vision. This time that vision was guided by new friend and producer T-Bone Burnett. This album signaled lots of changes, including a new bearded and publicly charming Elvis. Overall the Album has a great unadorned feel, but is also a bit over-indulgent. His first album for Columbia records. 1986 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Blood & Chocolate: Back with Nick Lowe and The Attractions for another shift in focus to a more direct rock record from the loose subtle feeling of King Of America. The recording for this album was purposefully stressful as Costello was trying to bring a little tension into the music, which added to the bands already mounting discontent. At first glance it seems just another Costello/Attractions album, but listening to it now you will be suprised it was recorded in 1986 as it seems a bit ahead of its time. ESSENTIAL 1989 – Elvis Costello – Spike: A great solo album in the tradition of King of America and Imperial Bedroom. Would be the album that includes the lion share of the material he worked up with Paul McCartney. Elvis’s most instrumentally ornate album to date. Featured more cherry picking of musicians. ESSENTIAL 1991 – Elvis Costello – Mighty Like a Rose: Elvis seemed to have forgotten what he learned from T-Bone Burnett on this record as he just wouldn’t leave the material alone. Elvis was getting heavily into classical music and experimenting with computers so the album has a very busy, over-tinkered feel. 1993 – Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters: Elvis’s full on classical album with the very accomplished Brodsky Quartet. A true collaboration between the two entities. The album was based on a discarded project from a Italian professor in which he would respond to the thousands of letters that are written to fictional character Juliet Capulet. An absolutely brilliant collaboration in which the Brodsky Quartet classes up Costello and Costello lends traditional pop song structures. ESSENTIAL 1994 – Elvis Costello/Richard Harvey – GBH: The original score for the British television show which stands for Grievous Bodily Harm. Pretty much what you’d expect – instrumental music. 1994 – Elvis Costello – Brutal Youth: Switching gears again, Elvis set out to do a raw rock record. Originally just going to be just Elvis and Attractions Drummer Pete Thomas, but turned into an accidental Attractions reunion. They pull it off again, releasing another solid record far past their prime. ESSENTIAL 1995 – Elvis Costello – Kojak Variety: Costello’s second album of covers, this time featuring a wider range of material. Actually recorded in 1990, but not released until 1995. A pretty underwhelming release all around. 1996 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – All This Useless Beauty: Basically a pastiche of material that Elvis had written for other artists but wanted to reclaim as his own. Most of the material is pretty weak and the production was purposefully wimpy. This would be the last time Elvis works with Attractions Bassist Bruce Thomas and his last full record for Warner Bros. 1998 – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory: Full fledged collaboration with the pop standard legend. They end up balancing each other out quite well even if you are biased towards Costello’s style. Bacharach was able to rain in Elvis lyrically and vocally while Elvis was able to add a little grit to Bacharach’s very glossy instrumentation and production. Released on Mercury Records. Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era. If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link. Originally Pubished at:
I'm been meaning to write more for the blog, and more on comics, than I have been, so, to get things back on track, I am going to write something that's been on my mind for sometime: fanboys really need to reel back on their Stan Lee hatred and start giving the man his due. Lee is one of the most important men in history of the comic industry and its most influential writer. You read that last bit correctly: Stan Lee is the most influential writer in the history of comics.Lee, born Stanley Lieber, got into comics straight out of high school, when his uncle got him a job working for his cousin's husband's company, Timely Comics. It was the sort of menial work you'd expect a kid to given, getting people's lunch, erasing pencil marks, whatever needed doing. Except for a stint in the Army Signal Corps, Lee stayed at Timely, aka Atlas, aka Marvel, growing up, starting a family, and getting tired of it all. Legend has it he told his wife he wanted to quit, to write something else, something better, to experiment. His wife told him that, if he's going to quit anyway, why not start experimenting now, with the comics you're already writing? Its funny that, with all the debates about who deserves credit for what, nobody mentions Joan Lee's advice, without which Lee would never have re-invented comics--because re-invent comics is exactly what he proceeded to do.I know there is a long history of complaints about Lee's artistic collaborators being unfairly treated by Marvel, and I don't mean to dredge that all up again, but as long fanboys center their discussions on glorifying Kirby or Ditko, they overlook what Lee contributed altogether. Before Lee if a good guy got superpowers, he became a superhero. If a bad got superpowers, he became a supervillain. That's all there was to it. It was a black and white world, without characterization or complexity. But when Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm got superpowers, it became as much a burden as a blessing. When teen Peter Parker got them, he saw a pathway to fame and fortune. They, and the hundreds of other characters Lee would write, reacted and behaved just like real people would. It was an important step in the maturity of the medium.One that would take a couple of decades to really reach fruition. We look at works like Watchmen and writers like Alan Moore when we want to talk about how comics have grown, but works like Moore's are a part of the larger legacy of Stan Lee. One of the things that work against the recognition of Lee's influence, ironically, is its own pervasiveness. Today every character has problems, has a real life to balance with their heroics. If his contributions seem ordinary, commonplace, its because everyone is copying them and have been copying them for almost fifty years. Before Lee comics were written for children. Because of Lee comics were able to grow and mature and hold onto their readership. So step back and recognize the man for what he is and for what he's done. Because without Lee the chances are neither of us would be reading comics now! Originally Pubished at: David Bird's Blog
Mike Carey is a master. I wanted to get that out of the way first and foremost. I’ve been into Carey’s writing since his churn in Vertigo’s Hellblazer, chronicling an era of everyone’s favorite John Constantine and then followed Carey for a whole on X-Men and been enjoying the hell out of The Unwritten (until my shop suddenly stopped ordering the damn book!). I finally finished his first novel The Devil You Know and once again… master!In Devil You Know, we’re introduced to a freelance exorcist by the name of Felix Castor, a cheeky, rigid, and sarcastic English man who reluctantly takes up a job to exorcise a ghost haunting an old museum. Castor tries to figure out the mysterious background of this strange ghost and her connection to the museum. As his “research” goes on, more mystery gets introduced. What if this ghost isn’t haunting just to be a demonic nuisance, but she’s actually currently a victim of a continuing scheme? Filled with intrigue into an occult underworld and a humorous perspective from the protagonist, The Devil You Know is an enriching and engrossing page turner as we’re introduced to dark corners filled with ghosts, loup-garous, a beautiful and deadly succubus, a rival exorcist, and last but not least a powerfully scary gang boss and pimp. Carey does a fantastic job in building this world surrounding Castor and actually making us care for him, his supporting cast, and horrific truths as they unravel through each and every chapter.It also didn’t hurt that Carey found a way of incorporating a loup-garou into the story, an animal/ghost/demonic shape-shifter who I’m accustomed to always hearing about through Haitian folklore. Be sure to read this book at night for a really filling and thrilling feel. It is a truly fantastic and great horror book for your collection. I can’t wait to read the sequel!Originally Pubished at: Minds of Greg
Let me start off by saying that although Steve Niles is dubbed as a modern master of horror, as a writer he doesn't do much for me. I've read his 30 Days of Night and while I was initially in love with it, I couldn't say it stayed brilliant with me through another reading. I've tried some of his other works and have always felt a tad underwhelmed. The one project of his I did like a lot was his short-lived Simon Dark book for DC Comics which I ended up dropping due to financial reasons, but sadly the fact that the book was heavily decompressed didn't make it a hard decision. I don't want to bash the guy. I love his enthusiasm for the horror genre and you can see his love and devotion for it. Heck, I've met the guy once and thought he was mega cool peoples. But I always feel as if a lot is missing in his work and I can never put my finger on it. I love his ideas, but execution can be a lot better.And once again I feel the same for his Radical book, City of Dust. City of Dust me meet a cop in the future by the name of Philip Khrome who turned his father in when he was a child after hearing a fantasy story from him. So yes, we're in one of those futures where fantasy, literature, religion, imagination are all banned and illegal. Even porn!!! While we are introduced to the main character, he gets caught up in a weird murder mystery strangely connecting to monsters- monsters that are so far resembling monsters of old tales – Tales of Dracula, werewolves, etc. Things get a tad difficult when Philip kills a criminal for praying and later he discovers a children's book and starts reading through it. Oh boy!Now, premise is cool and grabbing. Sure, it's a retread of Fahrenheit 451, but its still a rather good premise in this day and age when kids, even many adults, aren't even reading anymore (it tragically pained me when my little sister and cousin told me they've NEVER heard of Anansi the Spider!!). Niles does a pretty good job with the characters, my favorite parts being the scenes with the protagonist and his love interest, a prostitute. Niles also does a good job blending sci-fi with horror monsters with a mix of crime noir. The art is moody and works well with the atmosphere and world we're introduced to. No complaints with the art, Radical tends to always do well with that. But like all Niles books, I'm left unsatisfied. I still feel there's something missing. Extra beats that could have really helped it be great. For one, I felt the villains were a bit too weak in comparison to the protagonist. Not weak as in threat, but weak in execution. While they're wrecking havoc since the beginning of the book, they still don't seem to give an alarming presence. They seem to come out of nowhere, cause trouble, and move on. There's a revelation of how they come to be, but it gets presented in a seemingly nonchalant way where you just want to see this end.If you're into monsters and a good blending of genres, check this book out for yourself. There's enough grit and gore for these type of horror lovers. Also keep in mind that I started off explaining the relationship between me and Niles' writing, so if you're a fan of his, maybe this'll be up your alley. Beyond that, I can't say I fully recommend this.Originally Pubished at: Minds of Greg
In the spirit of today's particular holiday, I've decided to look at the work-ethic of pro wrasslin'. I considered, at first, doing an "All Time"-type thing, but decided I should narrow it down. It was then a "Top 5 Workers of Today"-thing, but I figured why not go against type and look at TNA?I've said often that TNA has a strong roster and that one the company's strengths is the willingness to push new, unproven stars. That logic often breeds hunger in an athlete to succeed and that hunger leads to a higher work ethic. Thus, it proved hard to narrow it down to five without cheating (which I ultimately did anyway - SPOILERZ).Without further adieu:#5: Shannon MooreBelieve me when I say that this comes as big surprise to no one more than me. When you find that "obvious" guys like Samoa Joe (hasn't done much of anything this year) or Rob Van Dam (he's really not that great as matches against Abyss and other people not named AJ Styles have proven) are not listed, but Shannon Moore is; well, it seems like something is amiss.Make no mistake about it, I didn't think Shannon Moore was worth much of anything when he tagged along to TNA next to Jeff Hardy.Yet at one half of the tag team Ink, Inc., Shannon Moore has found a new breath of fresh air in his career. There's a distinct difference between Shannon Moore now and the Shannon Moore who languished both in TNA in years prior and in WWE more recently. What brought about this new, reinvigorated state of being? I have no clue. Maybe it's the freedom to work as he sees fit with his best friend cooking meth next to him? Whatever it is, the renewed vigor in Shannon Moore has gotten him out of his doldrums and made him a legitimate talent to watch. It's unlikely he'll bounce out of his tag team act, but I wouldn't mind if he did as long he kept up with how he's doing now.Now if only Jeff Hardy would take the hint.#4. Jay LethalOnce upon a time it was said that Ric Flair could get a good match out of a broomstick. These days, that's a little less likely to happen and he can be, in fact, a detriment to any match in which he is actively involved in wrestling.That said, Jay Lethal is no slouch. What was posed to be his breakout year might have slackened off recently (point of fact - where the Hell is he these days?!), never let it be said that he didn't prove himself in 2010. Being paired with Ric Flair is a dream of most wrestlers and the dream was lived by Lethal in the first half of the year.The result was some of the most impressive in-ring work of his career. Lethal was paired up against Kazarian and AJ Styles before meeting Ric Flair in the ring, with both matches being subtle displays of his in-ring prowess. The match with Flair was arguably four stars (and not solely but Lethal's work, but Lethal added a lot to it).Lethal has always been a strong worker, but it's plain to see that working with his idol added a new emphasis to his work ethic. Unfortunately, he seems to have disappeared from TV. That's a shame. Talent like his should be used for all it's worth.#3. Kurt AngleThis should, ultimately, come as a surprise to no one. Kurt Angle, simply put, is one of the top ten pro wrestlers of all time. Whether it's been against AJ Styles, Mr. Anderson, or (apparently - I've yet to see the match but will eventually) Jeff Hardy; Kurt Angle excels at this whole pro wrasslin' thing.It's easy to write about Moore and Lethal, as well as the next two entrants. Angle's complicated because there's really no explanation needed. He's Kurt Angle and that's, frankly, all there is to it.#2: AJ StylesI think the only argument that could be made here is that he deserves to be higher. I even respect that argument, although I stand firmly behind my #1 choice.AJ evolved this year in a way very few in his position would. His promos have gone lightyears from where he was just a year ago (no doubt thanks to Flair) and his in-ring work is in a continuous state of improvement. AJ kicked the year off with strong matches against Abyss, Kurt Angle, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe. The word is, he even dragged a good-great match out of Tommy Dreamer on PPV.AJ has always been something of a hoss as far as work ethic goes, but there's no denying that his work has elevated to a completely new level this year. It was once impossible to boo AJ, but with ease he's merged into a great heel in-ring. He might do the occasional high spot, but that's not enough to take away this honor from him.Here's hoping to another run on top for AJ. He deserves it more than most.#1. Beer Money, Inc./Motor City Machine GunsIt might seem like a copout, but the truth is who else deserves the honor and recognition as much? Once upon a time the TNA tag division (along with it's X-Division) was considered one of the few things TNA did much better than WWE.Then it hit low after low it seemed, before the belts finally settled around the waists of Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Kevin Nash.Enter: Beer Money and the MCMG. Together, these two teams revitalized not just tag team wrestling in TNA - but tag team wrestling in the mainstream. While for over half a decade, ROH has been home to great tag team wrestling. On the shoulders of these two teams, TNA can knock at the door and say: "We're #1 in that area now." Some might disagree with that claim (myself included), but it's definitely a claim they can make.These two teams continued to impress in week in and week out in their numerous confrontations. Things might change before '10 ends, but I still think at the end of the year these two teams will be carrying strong as the top workers in TNA.
This Biography on Elvis Costello was written by Brit music journalist Graeme Thomson and published in 2006. Thomson is no stranger to the music biopic as he has written books on a couple of other luminaries such as Kate Bush and Willie Nelson. He has also written for Esquire, MOJO, Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Time Out magazines. This book brought me along on a journey through Costello’s recorded output and shined a light on his background. The book has its weaknesses just like any, in particular my major complaints would be it wasn’t detailed enough and it was a pretty straight chronological reporting of his life up to 2004. The major setback for the author was his inability to land an interview with the subject of the biography. Even though the book suffers from not getting some imput directly from “the horse’s mouth” per say, he does a pretty good job reconstructing Costello’s history through other source material. He then very resourcefully and resoundingly relies upon interviews with the other characters in Costello’s life and the deep catalog of established interviews and other material published over Costello’s then 30 year career in the music business. The author focuses quite a bit on Costello’s the countless live shows and tours he has ventured on throughout the years, and although the information is much appreciated it gets a little heavy when he brings up slight set list changes that happened between dates. The book very happily enlightened me to many aspects and happenings in Costello’s life. I had always been a very cursory fan of Elvis since first hearing his music in the later 80′s, but I had become more and more interested after continuing to hear new and compelling compositions from him throughout the years. Through this book I was able to re-experience his music from the beginning and give myself a depth of knowledge to what was going on in the background while all this wonderful music was being created and performed. Among the aspects of Elvis’s life that gets a lot of coverage (much to his chagrin) is his romantic life. From Elvis’s failed first marriage to Mary, to his high-profile affair with Bebe Buell, and beyond to his unofficial marriage to former Pogue Cait O’Riordan and finally up to date with his current wife jazz pianist Diana Krall. Now, I’m totally understanding to his personal right to privacy in these matters but you have to understand that the friction from these relationships makes up the majority of the emotional backbone to his music. Other great focuses are his surprising influences (Country-Western), his professional relationship with Stiff Records co-founder and eventual manager Jake Riviera, his early public abrasive-ness including his bout with the media in 1979 after an incident in which a drunken Elvis uttered some offensive racial slurs to members of the Stephen Stills band. Overall in the face of a few short comings it is an insightful and enjoyable read which I would suggest to any one who considers themselves of Elvis Costello fan. Usually I would follow a book review up with a playlist to highlight the music covered in the book, but because of the wealth of great material I will be posting a series of playlists split by distinct eras. Stay tuned.
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Writer: Cathy Malkasian, Artist: Cathy MalkasianPublished by Fantagraphics, 2010Temperance is an unusual book, but easiest enough to describe. Pa is the leader of a group of refugees, and he organizes them to build a walled community called Blessedbowl, in order to save them from the enemy. From the beginning we know this isn’t true. “Pa” is no ones father and there is no enemy. He is an abusive, angry, selfish man, who exploits his followers, isolating and abandoning them in the walls of Blessedbowl, which they are taught is a great ship floating on a sea of fire. This illusion is kept alive by a follower named Minerva, who feeds them stories of Pa’s great battles and of his need for them to keep ready for the great final battle. She keeps this story and community going for thirty long years.But what Temperance is about is far more difficult and interesting question. Malkansian was a successful animator before turning her hand to graphic novels and her first book, Percy Gloom, was nominated for an Eisner and won her the Russ Manning Award (the Eisner award for best newcomer). Her visual storytelling is very strong, unquestionably, but it was how she chose to tell her story that I found most interesting. Once walled in the city Minerva struggles to keep her husband Lester together, a hero to all, the reality of his past forgotten. Except when he drinks. Then half remembered events come back to haunt him. Temperance is the story of fear, the unity it fosters, the exploitation it can lead to, and what we will do to protect ourselves. How Pa came to be what he is, and exactly what he is, is left unsaid. Why people followed him is only implied. Rather than proscribe how we should react, Malkansian is confident enough to leave us enough space to interpret what we see ourselves, even if it doesn’t bring us to a pat conclusion. I myself am still wondering, for example, whether Penny and Minerva are meant to be the same person.A remarkable book.This blog has been syndicated from David Bird's Eponymous Blog.
Writer: Warren Ellis, Art: John Cassaday Published by DC/Wildstorm, 2011 I don’t know how many times I’ve read through Planetary. As the later issues were delayed, every time a new one was imminent, it was time to read them all through again. This week I read it through again. The occasion? The release of the new Absolute editions. The first volume was originally released five and a half years ago and was going for three hundred dollars or more. It was reprinted this month, thankfully, for the release of the second volume. Self-described archeologists, the Planetary group, led by Elijah Snow and his field team, Jakita Wagner, the Drummer, and Ambrose Chase, scours the world, searching for and saving its lost history. They’re not looking for Roman coliseums. They’re looking for secret cities in Africa, monster islands, Chinese ghosts, 19th century moon launches. A secret history of the world. Their enemy is the Four, a group led by Randall Dowling. The Four of made a Faustian bargain for control of this world and are closely following Snow, trying to steal away not only his finds, but all of humanity’s potential. Planetary is two things. First, it is a survey of the twentieth century’s popular culture. Comic books, pulps, B movies, radio dramas, and genre novels are all seamlessly integrated into one complete story. In that sense, Ellis and Cassaday are engaged in their own archeological adventure, digging through our heroes and archetypes. Second, it is a Wold Newton-like attempt to tie all these various stories into one broader story. The Wold Newton family was a creation of SF writer Philip Jose Farmer, tying together various popular and pulp characters together into a shared universe. Farmer did this by writing fictional biographies. Ellis does this by creating stand ins. He can’t use trademarked characters so instead of Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, for example, we get Alex Brass, who looks exactly like his pulp antecedent. I know these two things sound pretty much like the same thing, and they are closely related, but one speaks to intent and the other method. As a series Planetary has been almost universally praised. There are some who think that the second half isn’t as good as the first, but I don’t think that’s true. There is a shift in tone, certainly. The first half sets everything up in a series of stand alone stories. In the second, the stand alone stories are pushed back as the main story arc drives the series. It does have a different feel to it, but it’s not a drop in quality. Others have complained that the series epilogue was something of a let down. A techno-talkfest in which very little happens. Well… it was. But it was also written to clear up a plot point for the fans. Fans who would have complained if it hadn’t been written. The only problem that stood out to me was a trivia detail--Drummer refers to something that happened in the Adirondacks as having happened in the Rockies (these two mountain ranges are as far from one another as Southend-On-Sea is from Odessa)--but even I’m not that pedantic. Well, I guess I am, but I admit it’s trivial. Points for that, right? The Absolute editions themselves are beautiful. DC targets the collectors market with high quality, oversized hardcovers with dust jackets and slipcases. Both volumes are a little light when it comes to extras, and the crossover stories are not included, but the principle story is here in its entirety and Cassaday’s art, coloured by Martin, is really enhanced by this treatment. Absolute editions are not cheap. After taxes, these go for about a hundred each in Canada, but I paid half that by going online and looking for a good deal. If you have any interest, look for them now before someone is asking three times as much. This blog has been syndicated from David Bird's Eponymous Blog.
When Steve Gerber died a couple of years ago, the Eisners were on the horizon and I wondered why he wasn't in the Hall of Fame. I made a few inquiries, but eventually decided to file the whole thing away for next year. Well, a couple of years pass, my comics blogging has been in decline, but sometimes good things happen to good people and this year Gerber was inducted. The event, as live blogged by the Beat: The first winner is Steve Gerber, his daughter Samantha and writing partner Mary Skrenes accept. Steve was a wonderfully witty and intelligent guy who was interested in everything from ancient history to politics, says Skrenes,. “He read constantly blog and news feeds and comic books and watched the news. The only person he could have a real conversation with was Mark Evanier. Mark was a really good friend to Steve and now keeps Steve’s blog alive. Also, Billingham gave Steve a van when his beloved Subaru couldn’t be repaired any more.” She also thanks the Hero Initiative, which was a big help to Gerber in his last days. Samantha Gerber mentions that Mary has been there for her and she calls her all the time. Very touching. “My dad was a fabulous writer and what a genius he was and what he created. To me, he was just my dad, and that’s what I miss.” In--perhaps only marginaly--related news, Gil Kane's work is being celebrated in a new blog, Kingdom Kane. Well worth checking out. Kane himself was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 1997, three years before he died. I don't know why he isn't better known, or perhaps more widely celebrated. He was an incredibly influencial artist and was promoting the graphic novel concept as early as 1968. This blog has been syndicated from David Bird's Eponymous Blog.
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